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Alien Gender Confusion

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A situation, usually played for comedy, in which a member of one species or race has difficulty distinguishing the genders or sexes of another. This usually serves to demonstrate the lack of familiarity between them, but is sometimes done mockingly to indicate the one failing to tell the difference is inept or unobservant. The confused one may complain that their subjects "all look alike", which might be true, if only because of budgetary limits.

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This can be justified if one race has Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism and aren't used to different sexes of the same race looking similar. Conversely, it can be justified if they are a One-Gender Race, in which case they might have no concept of gender at all and fail to understand the import of using different pronouns. One species might also have Bizarre Alien Sexes that the other is not aware of.

Compare Ambiguous Gender, when a person's gender is difficult to tell even for their own race, Otherworldly and Sexually Ambiguous, when a nonhuman entity is humanoid yet androgynous, Your Tomcat Is Pregnant, when a pet assumed to be male is revealed to be female because it gives birth, and Viewer Gender Confusion, an audience-reaction trope. Elfeminate is a subtrope pertaining specifically to elves.


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Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • Invader Zim (Oni): In issue #13, both Zim and the alien abductor are visibly unclear on how to tell male and female humans apart.
    Extraterrestrial Abductor: Behold! The ugly human female you call your best friend!
    Zim: AHHAHHAHH! Dib is neither of those things... or... at least, hey Dib, are you female? I can never actually tell with humans.
  • Orbital, a Franco-Belgian science-fiction series by Sylvain Runberg and Serge Pellé, lampshades this. One of the main characters is Mezoke, a Sandjarrian, a jet-black humanoid whose silhouette has a stunning feminine look for humans, but both genders appear similar and to ask questions is decisively an offense for Sandjarrians. In the first issue, Caleb explains this specific fact to a guy who was admiring Mezoke.

    Fan Works 
  • Gender Trouble is a Supergirl "Five Things" Fic about this. Krypton and Earth have different viewpoints on what makes someone transgender. Alex thinks that Kara is a trans girl because of her anatomy. However, Krypton doesn't gender anatomy but instead genders hand preferences (female-identified people are right handed, and males their left), which makes the left-handed Alex come off as a trans girl to her alien adopted sister.
  • In one The Dresden Files crossover with My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, human wizard Harry Dresden has wound up in Ponyville and needs clothing. Because the ponies are unfamiliar with humans, the seamstress asks him if he is "a stallion or a mare"... which initially flusters him because of the human connotations of being a stallion.

    Films — Animation 
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    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas: Happens when The Great Gazoo appears as Fred and Barney are about to go to sleep.
    Gazoo: I am here to observe your species' mating rituals. So... get to it!
    Fred: Oh, Barney and me don't, uh...
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Kili mistakes an Elf-man for an Elf-maid, to his companions' amusement. This nascent interest in Elves serves to set up his romance with Tauriel later on.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, Gimli explains to Eowyn that humans sometimes assume that Dwarves reproduce asexually because Dwarf women look so much like the men. Aragorn clarifies that the beard is the source of the confusion. In The Hobbit we do see some female Dwarves, and they do indeed have beards, though rather dainty ones.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Guardians of the Galaxy: Rocket tells Groot to learn his genders when he tries to kidnap Gamora instead of Peter.
    • In Thor: Ragnarok, the Grandmaster is an alien being (entity?) who is millions of years old, has an orgy ship, and plays host to many different species of alien guests, not all of whom look close to human. He is also visibly confused about Thor's gender when he first sees him, so presumably, even though he looks like a human or Asgardian, he's far from it. Notably, having no clue what gender Thor is doesn't stop the Grandmaster from hitting on him, though.

    Literature 
  • Discworld: This serves as a minor plot point in Snuff. Humans can't easily tell goblin genders and, regarding goblins as vermin, seldom try, but a rural community becomes somewhat disconcerted when they find out a goblin that had been ruthlessly butchered by a couple of local thugs was female.
  • InCryptid: Sarah's a member of a telepathic race (Johrlacs, or cuckoos) mildly affected by this. Because cuckoos tell people apart by their minds, they had no evolutionary need to recognize faces, making them essentially face-blind. Because of the telepathy, Sarah can generally tell what gender someone is — but not what gender they're presenting as. She doesn't have issues most of the time, but she tells us that she's made mistakes in the past.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness takes place on Gethen, a planet inhabited by hermaphroditic Human Aliens descended from the same stock as Earthmen, who develop sexual characteristics to mate but are sexless otherwise. A visitor from Earth cannot help but think of them in term of a certain gender. At the beginning, he lives in the house of a Gethenian whom he calls a "landlady" due to a feminine figure, but they're a father to three or four kids and a mother to none.
  • Sector General: In order to avoid confusion (or inadvertently giving offense by referring to an individual as the incorrect gender), aliens are properly referred to as "it"; characters thus only have their gender specified if they appear in a novel written from the point of view of a member of their species.
  • The Sparrow: When Earth explorers make First Contact with the deerlike Runa, both peoples are going by size; the Earthers think the smaller Runa who do most of the child care are women. Meanwhile, the Runa think the taller Earth people are women.
  • Star Carrier: Deep Space has a variant where a Slan, analyzing a captured human naval aviator with his echolocation, mistakes her breasts for echolocation organs.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: It's a Running Gag that Strax cannot identify humans by sex, and always guesses wrong. He also has a tendency to default to male pronouns and call everyone "boy". In his case, it's because he's a Sontaran, a race of clones who are all male.
    The Doctor: Two genders is a bit further than he can count.
  • Farscape:
    • When they first meet the Zenetan garbologist Staanz, Zhaan and D'Argo assume she is a male, because she certainly looks like the typical human or Sebacean male. Staanz certainly does little to dissuade them from that assumption, merely telling them that her species isn't cut from the standard mold. The crew doesn't find out until the very end of the episode, when she reveals she's in love with D'Argo.
    • At the end of the same episode, Crichton asks Aeryn (after they nearly jumped each other when it looked like they were going to die) whether she's the female of her species just to be sure. Aeryn shows him.

    Video Games 
  • The Banner Saga: An inverted, tragic version occurs in regards to the stone-like Dredge. They have such incomprehensible biology compared to the setting's other, mammalian races that they initially assume every combatant they encounter is male. It's only when they realize some of them have children strapped to them that they realize the Dredge army comprises both sexes and are actually Invading Refugees.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, the Qunari have a rather different set of social norms from the rest of the races. If the Warden is a female warrior, Qunari party member Sten will declare that despite appearances, she is a man, as women are not warriors in Qunari society. Dragon Age: Inquisition goes into more detail on the subject. In the Qun, role determines gender rather than the other way around. For example, a woman who displays a proficiency for combat that is expected of a warrior is considered a man under the Qun regardless of her biological sex. Individuals who fall under this rule are referred to as the Aqun-Athlok. They are then expected to look and act as much like all the other guys as possible. Thus a trans man soldier is just a man to new Qunari party member Iron Bull, but openly female soldiers require some mental gymnastics to process.
  • Mass Effect 2: In a Dummied Out conversation, a turian groundskeeper asks Commander Shepard if she is female, since she has those "funny bumps" on the front like an asari.
  • Neverwinter Nights 2: A (probably) facetious example can occur between a male Player Character and a demon.
    Male PC: No, I'm not female.
    Baalbisan: But it looks female. How can I be certain?
    Male PC: I suppose I could show you. Stand back — I'll need a lot of room.
    Baalbisan: It offers to reveal its parts, but my vision is not what it was. I doubt I could make out something so diminutive.
    Neeshka: Well, from what I have heard, it is not that small at all.
    Elanee: What did you say?
    Neeshka: [quietly] Hey, I don't know, I'm just trying to help.
  • In Star Wars: The Old Republic, when Treek compares herself to other Ewok women, the player character can express surprise that she's female. Treek is annoyed they didn't realize, saying she's highly attractive by Ewok standards.
  • In World of Warcraft the Tortollans apparently have difficulty telling the difference between the genders of other species as seen in one voiced line.
    Greetings, sir... and or ma'am.

    Web Comics 
  • Digger: Initially averted, but later played straight. The titular wombat is always identified as female (when her sex is relevant at all), despite being a furry, cylindrical member of a species nobody else in the story has ever encountered. She had barely visible breasts in early pages, but the artist phased these out later. However, the trope is played straight for the hyenas, with several characters expressing inability to determine their sex. This is Truth in Television: hyena sexes are difficult to tell apart even for those familiar with them.
  • Faux Pas: Cindy the vixen gets taken to a commercial shoot in Randy the dog fox's place in the week 60, day 3 installment. The studio honcho mentions to the handler that the shot calls for a "foxy lady" but that "Randy" is a male. The cosmetologist is told to work her "makeup magic" to turn Randy into a girl fox. The cosmetologist makes one careful observation, then reports, "This is a girl fox." The honcho replies, "Great work, Essie. Take a bonus out of petty cash." Poor Cindy can only look at Essie as if to ask, "Are all humans this cuckoo?"
  • In "The Sci-Fi Adventure" in Sluggy Freelance, Torg and Riff encounter a character who very definitely appears to be a Green-Skinned Space Babe. He tells them he's actually a male of his species. Given what he looks like, they don't even care.
    "Could you bounce up and down for us, mister?"

    Web Original 
  • One posthumous winner of a Darwin Award (veracity unknown) was at a zoo and asked the gender of the bear in the exhibit. When no one had the answer, he jumped into the pit, went up to the bear, and delivered as hard a kick in the fork as he could. The bear turned out to be male, and reacted to the aggression as male bears do.

    Web Videos 
  • Star Trek Continues: Upon a new species making first contact with the Enterprise, one of their ambassadors mistakes Spock for a human female. The aliens of the week are humanoids themselves, which makes it especially funny.

    Western Animation 
  • Ben 10: When Ben first meets Myaxx, he not only mistakes her for a man, but specifically mistakes her for Vilgax. Indeed, from a human perspective the two look near identical; the main difference is their voices and Myaxx being slightly skinnier than Vilgax was pre-cybernetic enhancement. Regardless, Myaxx takes understandable offense.
  • The Brak Show: In "Pepper", Zorak becomes physically attracted to the titular alien that he believes to be female, but finds out at the end that it is actually male.
  • Futurama:
    • Used as a throwaway joke in the second episode when Zoidberg is introduced as the company doctor, who knows nothing of human medicine, including such basics as discerning genders.
      Phillip Fry: Uh, is there a human doctor around?
      Zoidberg: Young lady, I'm an expert on humans.
    • In "Neutopia", the Planet Express crew meet a Sufficiently Advanced Alien who has no concept of gender. It uses Reality Warper powers to make them genderless so that they may see each other as equals, which actutally works until they realize they can't have sex anymore. When the alien restores their genders, however, it gets them mixed up, making the male characters female and vice versa. It is killed by Zapp Brannigan before the mix-up could be corrected.
  • Golan the Insatiable: Golan, a warrior king from another dimension, sometimes has trouble telling human boys & girls apart.

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